Looking at options for Helston’s Coronation Park

The front page headline of the Helston Packet is running a story on the future of Coronation Park. From this, I have also done a BBC Radio Cornwall interview on the same subject.

I have been quite open about looking at how best to bring the boating lake up to its former glory. Two ways this could happen. The first is for Cornwall Council to invest (as they own it) with the other option is to transfer the ownership to a local organisation.

Since being the Cornwall Council for the area, I have long argued with Cornwall Council that they should fund this, but do realise finding £300k plus for lake repairs and improvements in these difficult austerity times is a lot to ask. We should not blame the Council for this, as there has been a lack of investment in boating lake in the Kerrier DC days. Though there was investment in the children’s play area, and building of the new cafe.

If there is a community devolution way forward this will be community led, and not from Cornwall Council. If someone does not want to take it over, then it stays with the local authority.boatinglake

The lake is over 100 years old, and from reports, has not been fully drained and cleared since the 1970’s (when damage was done to the clay bottom of the lake). Furthermore, issues with the Leats, built up of silt, the lake leaking due to the damage, and the invasion of the green algae, which the seeds have got under the silt has added to the lakes issues.  The work required to repair/improve/ the area could be over £500k, and that includes the skate park, which also needs to be replaced.

Two reasons why the transfer of the area would be in the beneficial. The first is I believe the asset could be run by a community organisation, for the community. The second is how the area finds future funding for investment. On the point of investment,  we all know the area is in need of it, but with the current financial climate with the Cornwall Council having to deal with 30% budget cuts,  it is hard for Cornwall Council to find the required funds to bring the area back up to its former glory. Furthermore, most of the large funders out there will not fund a local authority owned area. I believe by potentially devolving to a local organisation, there will be more funding options available.

To date, the Council – with my support – has been talking to interested parties who would be willing to take on this asset. Part of that negotiation is the scope of what could be transferred. That scope has not been finalised, but option include the whole site including pay areas and car parks, or certain aspects of the site. However, I expect it to be finalised soon, and from that, it will go out to tender. The scope of the tender is heavily weighted on community benefit. The Town Council were asked if they would be interested in the asset, but have said (from my understanding) they would not be interested in taking this on.

My view is this site would be best to be transferred as whole to give the new operators the best chance of seeking the funds to bring this site back up to its former glory. As the local member I want this area to be a jewel and therefore I want to help that happen by looking at all options for the site. Doing nothing will result in the area further deteriorating

If a transfer goes ahead, there will be robust diligent test to make sure everything works for both parties. I do not want to transfer the site, for it to fail.

I hope this explains the current position.

 

The Goverment’s Spending Review: the other details

In the third and last blog post on the recent the Government’s Spending Review; I thought I would cover the other subjects and a general round-up on the review. Sorry in advance, it is a long post.

It has been clear in the review; the Government is continuing to wage its war against local authorities. One of the targets is the assets owned by local authorities and wants to further encourage local authorities to release surplus assets.

In Cornwall we are already going to a large-scale office rationalisation programme and have halved our building assets from 180-odd to 93. This will be scaled down further to around 50 buildings/offices.

The review gives details on updating the Transparency Code which will require all local authorities to record details of their land and property assets in a consistent way on the government’s electronic Property Information Management System (e-PIMS). It will also extend the One Public Estate with £31m funding to support local authorities to work with other local public sector property owners and design more efficient asset management strategies. Again, like the office rationalisation, we in Cornwall are doing this with partners such as health.

Local authority salaries will be targeted with a new guidance to local authorities to encourage them to reign in excessive salaries and do more to drive efficiencies for local taxpayers. Though what is deemed excessive is yet to be clarified. We all want value for money on how our taxes are spent, but why only target local authorities? Why not include Health too? I know nationally there are some eye-watering salaries for health execs.

The Government will also review sickness absence in public sector workforces and will not rule out legislation where necessary.

The Spending Review will strengthen the existing legislation around ‘Right to Contest’ to allow local communities to challenge the use of land and property that is in use by local authorities. In another ‘Right to’ the Government will launch a pilot scheme with five Housing Associations which will inform the final design of the extended Right to Buy programme.

On the subject of land, a cornerstone of the review was the areas of housing and local development. The housing budget will be doubled to £2bn per year from 2018-19 to make house building a priority, with more than 400,000 “affordable homes” to be built-in England.

How those homes will be built will no-doubt be made easier with the Government bringing forward further reforms to the planning system, including establishing a new delivery test on local authorities that will ensure delivery against the number of homes set out in local plans. In other words, planning will be made easier for development. The Government recognises the key role that local authorities can play by selling land for housing, and will set the contribution local authority land disposal can make by the Budget.

Though on the other hand, the Government wants to protect England’s countryside through the Common Agricultural Policy by assigning it £3bn. There will be protection of over £350m funding for public forests, National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty over the Spending Review period. Though, wanting to build more houses, but at the same time protect the countryside and AONB’s does seem at odds with each other.

Second homes and Buy to Let homes will be having a new Stamp Duty surcharge of 3%. It is expected that this will raise £3bn over four years. However, how will the Government know if it is a second home? I mean a purchaser cold say I am buying another house to move into, but then don’t. Will there be some time period where the Government could retrospectively demand the 3%

Though the government will use some of the additional tax collected from the Stamp Duty surcharge to provide £60m for communities in England where the impact of second homes is particularly acute, such as Cornwall. No details on how this will work.

After an effective campaign which highlighted the folly of the new police funding formula, the Police budget has been protected in real terms over the Spending Review period (£900m in cash terms by 2019/20). Council Tax precepts for the Police service will be allowed to rise by up to 2% or £5, whichever is higher.

Beefing up the role of the Police and Crime Commissioners (PCC) has been rumoured for sometime. The review will bring forward legislation to enable PCC’s to take on responsibility for fire and rescue services, subject to a clear business case, which the local fire service will have to provide. For the transfer of responsibilities it would need local support.

However, it is not clear what local support means, but as Cornwall Fire and Rescue Service is part of Cornwall Council I guess it would require the Council to say yes before anything could happen. We all know how the Government is a deft hand at changing legislation if something gets in the way of their plans, so I would not be surprised if councils were made to transfer the service.

Furthermore, a new statutory duty will be introduced for the emergency services to collaborate by early 2017 – subject to parliamentary approval – on areas such as procurement, new stations and vehicle maintenance.

In the review there will be at least £74m of funding for the Emergency Services Mobile Communications Programme. This will help fire and rescue services benefit from the latest mobile digital technology.

Tourism gets a boosts by the creating a new £40m Discover England Fund to boost tourism across England.

The Government will spend over £150m to keep South West Water household customers’ bills £50 lower for the rest of this Parliament, in recognition of the higher water costs faced by consumers in the South West. This will help 750,000 households.

It is good to see some Cornwall persific items in the Spending Review, with:

  • The extension of the Cornwall & Isles of Scilly Enterprise Zone will bring new investment opportunities and retention of further Business Rates growth;
  • An improved transport link to the South West with the government funding new air routes from Newquay to Leeds Bradford (more details to follow);
  • Commitment to fully fund the Roads Investment Strategy; Highways England will deliver 112 major schemes including the dualling of the A30 Carland Cross to Chiverton Cross.
  • Projects such as the A391 in Cornwall will be able to bid for funding from the £475m Local Majors Fund.
  • Network Rail’s programme of investment will fund the re-signalling programme for Cornwall.

In conclusion, much of the headlines have been around the Welfare Reforms and the U-turn on Tax Credits. The have also been headlines on the ‘end of austerity.’ In fact the spin has hidden the facts that Cornwall Council still has to deal with 30% cuts in its budget.

How this review will affect Cornwall Council is hard to tell at the moment, as the devil is in the details, and that detail will not be released to local authorities till the end of December or early January.

This is not the end of austerity, austerity is still here alive and kicking for councils, who as we all know, deliver so many essential services.

In case you missed the other two blog on the Spending Review, they are here: Education and Precept/business rates.

 

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